ICANN Tethered - Page 5

Lingering Issues

Some insist that gaining control of the root server is not ICANNs greatest challenge. It is instead symbolic of whether the experiment that is ICANN can persuade its patron — and its constituents — to let it survive. And that may force the company to take a far more restrained approach to dealing with its critics.

"ICANN should be less combative," said Dyson, who, ironically, was among those board members most harshly criticized for dismissing anyone who disagreed with ICANN. "They dont have the resources to respond to everybody. And sometimes, it responded badly."

ICANN has a list of other pressing issues on its plate. It is going through a leadership transition with the installation of Cerf as chairman last November and the departure next month of Michael Roberts, the groups founding chief executive and president. He will be succeeded by M. Stuart Lynn, the retired chief information officer at the University of California system.

In the midst of this transition, ICANN will find some of its harshest critics now come from within its ranks. Two of the five newly elected members to its board say ICANN needs serious reform.

"ICANN is going off with all the concern for the populace that Louis XIV had," said Auerbach, who was himself elected in October to the "at-large" board seat from North America. "It is kowtowing to its friends, the intellectual property industry and getting rid of anybody who doesnt smell of money."

Among ICANNs top priorities is ensuring the smooth introduction of the seven new gTLDs. Since the selections were made in November, ICANN staff has been working to complete contracts with the operators of the new domains. It will likely take several months before the operators are ready to begin offering the new names.

However, that process is still under fire. Some of the fiercest criticism was aimed at what some described as the inappropriate influence of the staff over the gTLD selection process. In fact, some argue that the staff plays too big of a role in ICANNs overall decision-making process.

"The staff seemed to have decided how they wanted things to turn out and presented it to the board that way," said Peter Schalestock, a Seattle lawyer who represents Group One Registry, which submitted an unsuccessful gTLD bid.

Among those viewed as having the most influence within ICANN is Sims, who has been with the organization since its beginnings. He started as Postels lawyer and stayed on with ICANN after Postels death in 1998.

A no-nonsense veteran, Washington lawyer and former Justice Department official, Sims is reviled by some critics who question his true aims, insisting he is on a power trip and hopes to ride ICANN to riches. One ICANN power broker calls him "ruthless" and "forceful."

"There is this character of ICANN that is arrogant and condescending, and Joe Sims embodies that," Auerbach said.

But the same man is also admired for keeping ICANN focused on the tasks before it. Sims dismissed notions that he has used the ICANN connection to boost his own practice — initially, he worked for ICANN on a pro bono basis, and even though his law firm, Jones Day, now bills for its work, Sims said he "cant trace any clients who have come to us" because of it. In fact, he is probably far better known in high-tech circles for his legal work on behalf of America Online Time Warner and its bid to gain federal approval of the two companies merger.

"He is a trench warrior," said Diane Cabell, a fellow at Harvard Law Schools Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "His ulterior motive is to keep ICANN in operation."

At the same time, ICANN officials and others said the organization must now focus more attention on a simmering dispute with the operators of the more than 250 so-called country code top-level domains, such as dot-us and dot-uk, concerning their role in ICANN. The group has asked ccTLD operators, many of which are private companies not designated by their governments, to pay a total of nearly $1.5 million to help fund ICANNs operations. The ccTLD operators, however, said they want a greater role within ICANN and clear contracts stating what authority ICANN does and doesnt have over their operations and policies.

ICANN also has promised to begin a review of a controversial process put in place in late 1999 to help resolve disputes over domain names. Even as ICANN dismisses charges that the process is tilted in favor of trademark interests, the organization will likely be faced with calls to expand it. This is expected to spark a new round of debate over whether the intellectual property community has too much influence within ICANN and whether its mission is as technical as Cerf and other ICANN officials like to say it is.

The World Intellectual Property Organization, which helped develop ICANNs uniform dispute resolution policy, is studying whether this process should be extended to cover categories beyond trademarks, like personal names and geographical indications. It is expected to release a report later this year.

ICANN has another potentially controversial decision to make down the road, on what voice the general Internet community should have in ICANN. When ICANN was created, it was envisioned that nine board seats out of 18 would be set aside for "at-large" members, or Internet users. ICANNs president also holds a seat as an ex-officio board member.

Five of these at-large members were elected from five regions around the world during an online election in October. ICANN has put off a decision on the election of the four other at-large board members until it conducts a study of the election process and the need for at-large representation within ICANN.

Internet democracy groups and others worry that ICANN may move to eliminate the at-large board members following the study. ICANN officials said they are withholding judgment until the study is completed.

Despite the rocky road, Sims said that without ICANN, there might have been little or no progress in expanding either the number of top-level domains or of eliminating the one-time monopoly by Network Solutions on registering all domain names in the dot-com, dot-net and dot-org worlds.

"Lets assume ICANN had never been created," he said. "Somebody would say a multinational organization ought to be formed. Then youd have some people in Congress saying, We own this; we dont have to talk to these yahoos. I think nothing would have happened, and the world would be the same as it had been in 1998."

Irving, the former Commerce assistant secretary, said, "If the government pulled out now, things are going to collapse without the sheriffs role of the government to keep order. Who else are you going to give that job to?"

And even some of ICANNs harshest critics think the alternative of a collapsed ICANN is unpleasant.

"I think ICANN has developed into an egregious institution," Auerbach said. "But if ICANN were to disappear and create a vacuum, I and other people are fearful what will fall into it. Whatever follows would be a disaster. Wed end up with something like the FCC in the 1950s, facilitating AT&T, and the consumer be damned."